I would not call myself an overachiever by any stretch of the word. More like, someone who wants to get to the finish line as quickly as possible. So, what that meant for this small town girl was finishing high school early and getting the fuck away from those crazy, entitled kids for good.
I remember working my first job at a collection agency at 15 years old and hearing one of the wise older women (she was 18) talk about her new career path in the medical field. She would no longer be making $6 an hour, but she would be making $10 which made her rich. I jumped on that bandwagon the second I heard $10. I enrolled myself in medical courses and by the time I was 18, I landed myself a respectable job at a Dermatology clinic. After several more years, I realized I wanted MORE money. So, naturally I went back to school. I chose a school that did accelerated nursing studies. I was smooth sailing on my way to a higher paycheck until the unthinkable happened. My smart mouth got me kicked out of the program 3 months before graduation. This was most upsetting because I was always the top student… but it was that wise ass mouth that clashed with every teacher and administrator. I was a know it all but, in all fairness, I did know it all. I just needed a lesson in respect. Sadly, no other school would accept my transcripts and wanted me to repeat all but the first month of nursing school. At this point, the ol’ student loans were already topping $50k and my parents were not about to co-sign another. So, I did what adults do… Get a huge chip on my shoulder for the next several years and continue working for chump change. I worked in the medical field doing various things for years and decided after nearly 15 years that I hated it. I knew after year number 5 that I hated it, but respectable women are in the medical field and that’s what I wanted to be.. respectable. I saw the medical field change so drastically over the years. It was no longer about patients. It was about insurance companies trying to pay as little as possible for care and in turn, Doctors providing the minimal amount of care required to keep afloat. It was a vicious cycle. As support staff, we took the hatred from the patients and insurance companies. Doctors are almost always unpleasant to work for so the money did not make up for the unhappiness. I genuinely hated working with patients by the end. That’s healthy for nobody! I am the type of person that will deal with a situation being wrong for the rest of my life because that is what adults do. My father taught me a lesson when I got my first job that has stuck with me to this very day. It haunts me and makes me chuckle. One summer, I was complaining to Dear Ol’ Dad about how boring it was working at a collection agency. I wanted to work somewhere fun like Hot Dog On a Stick. He told me “Shelby, it is not called a fun. It is called a job. They don’t pay you to have fun. They pay you to work. Get use to it.” Describes my adolescence and twenties perfectly.
Right around the time I turned 30, I made the decision to be happy. So, I started out on my own doing what I love and had been doing for years (but this time not under a Doctors dictatorship). I started working in a Spa as an Esthetician and I loved it. I lived in San Diego and was really starting to settle in to my 30’s. I was eating kale chips and doing Yoga and becoming a real adult. Then, as life often does, it threw me a curveball. My lease was almost up at the house I had been living in. I searched high and low for a new home but I was denied time and time again because I own a Bulldog. So, I reached out to my childhood friend who had been asking me to move out to New Orleans to help out with her mothers dog rescue. Within 2 weeks I was on my way to the promised land with only the possessions that would fit in my car and my pets. It was such a relief to get rid of all that “stuff.” I felt like it was weighing me down. There was a time when possessions consumed me. Making money consumed me. And finally I was free. You don’t need a lot of “stuff” in life. I had my pets, my clothes, and a lot of hope in my heart.
My position at the dog rescue was meant to be temporary to help me get on my feet while finding a job in my field. Four years later and here we are. I could never bring myself to leave the job. For the first time in a long time, I felt alive again. It has been a rocky road since day one. But, it made me human again. It makes you very humble instantly. The first time I was humbled, it was by a dog that I will not mention by name to spare her public humiliation . I was taking this little nightmare for a lovely stroll and she saw her chance to break me down. In front of nearly 20 volunteers, she proceeded to jump up and rip my shirt clean off my back. This was upsetting for many reasons. First and foremost, I was wearing a brand new Michael Jackson Thriller shirt. How do you explain a dog ripping off your brand new Thriller shirt? Fucking embarrassing. The second reason, was, she ripped my shirt off in front of strangers and lets just say it was not one of those scenes from a movie where I had a glistening six pack of abs. It was more like, a horror movie that involved Freddy Krueger exposing my pale, less than toned body that was riddled with stretch marks and evidence that I may have spent time indulging in a few too many cheeseburgers. Needless to say, I went to the bathroom and squirted out one to two tears, changed my shirt, and put those big girl panties back on. “Its not a fun Shelby, its a job.”
Working in rescue is rewarding. It is also heartbreaking. You have to learn what to tune out and what to absorb. Its a fine line most days. I became more accepting of these odd things that I wasn’t familiar with. They are called emotions. My coworkers knew what my crying face looks like. Nobody knows what that looks like. Its the face of young boy and the body of your favorite fun, drunk Aunt.
Some days you get tempted to throw in the towel and walk away. But, then you ask yourself… “What in the fuck I am going to do if I don’t work with dogs?” People who work in rescue become feral around regular people. We no longer know how to have conversations. We have 3 different outfits and they all include bleach stains. Our level of personal hygiene instantly no longer exists. You find yourself eating a sandwich in the 3 spare minutes of the day when you have a dog shit smear on your legs and it does not bother you. You reevaluate people in your life, such as a significant other, based upon whether or not they fit on your bed with all your animals. Cuts will be made, and often times it is the love interest that hits the road. Your home is never clean. Dog hair exists everywhere. To other people you work with, it looks real tidy. To an outsider, it looks like you are a fucking hoarder.
About a year into working at the rescue, a dog that I really didn’t care for was diagnosed with cancer. She lived in my office up until that point and she was annoying. She was very unattractive and had these horrendous crossed eyes and snaggle teeth. She was the product of poor breeding and then was also used to breed. Cant even imagine how ugly her puppies were. This little devil was named Majestic. She was a manipulating little turd. She was stubborn. She got her way all the time and I just did not play into that. She would lay in the middle of the street during our walks and people would feel so sorry for her. They would comment about how scared she must be. Contrary to popular belief, that devil was not scared. That was just her dumb little face and Skeletor body that helped her manipulate the crowd for attention and embarrass me. I felt like the mother to a child throwing a tantrum in the grocery store, giving her that death stare to start acting right or there would be consequences. She did not care. She knew there were no consequences.
After her diagnosis, she was moved to a different area of the facility and I no longer had to care for her. My instant thought was “Bye bitch.” Then days later, I was walking to my car and Majestic was being walked by someone else. She locked eyes with me. She started screaming and pulling to get close to me. I dismissed it as a fluke. That dog was a manipulator and that’s that. Then, it happened every time she saw me. This little devil dog actually liked me. I find nothing more endearing than a dog that is obsessed with me. Naturally, I had to return the favor and adore her back. This meant I brought that little devil home to die with me. We were two peas in a pod. Mean, cranky old ladies.
On to the journey of my first hospice. Majestic paved the way for all the old lady dogs that have come home with me to die with dignity. Majestic had never lived in a home before. So, naturally she behaved like she had never lived in a home. She ruined my furniture, destroyed dog beds, harassed my other dogs. She lived the dream. I made her 5 course meals to eat everyday. We cuddled all the time. We would sit in my yard for hours, with her laying in my lap till it was dark. My biggest concern was that I didn’t know how I was going to be able to tell when the time had come for Majestic to go walk with the good Lord. I worried about it daily for 6 months. I never wanted her to be in pain. I did not want to be one of those people that keeps their dog alive for too long to the point that they are in pain and there was no quality of life.
Then one day, she let me know that her time had come. So, I packed her in the car and rushed her to the Vet. As I lay on the floor cradling that little angel till she finally went home to Jesus, I sobbed. It broke my heart to have to let her go. She changed me. How can one dog affect your whole life? The amount of pain I felt watching her die in my arms felt unbearable but in that moment, it isn’t about me. It was about her. She gave me my time. Every moment leading up to the second she died was her giving me my time. In total, I have hospiced close to 10 dogs. It is never easy. But, when I am asked how can I keep doing this… My answer is always the same. I do this because I am selfish. This has very little to do with the dogs. It is for my own joy. I get to introduce a dog into a home and most of them have never experienced that. They get to cuddle and kiss and destroy and eat like royalty. I get to see these dogs act like puppies again. It is absolutely a selfish decision every time. To watch a dog go from living in a kennel to living like a real dog in your home is priceless. I am so grateful for Majestic changing my mind on so many things and reminding me that there is more to life than “stuff.” Years later and I still want to cry thinking of that terrible monster who loved me unconditionally. At the end of the day, I think that this may actually be a “fun” and a job.